×

Mamay

Ukrainian submission for Best Foreign Language Oscar is comparatively quite rich and strange for the category. Ravishing looking debut for shorts-and-docu helmer Oles Sanin could be a winner for more adventurous fests and rep houses. Auds will need in-depth program notes to stay in steppe with oblique story of how a Cossack falls for a Tartar beauty across a cultural divide.

With:
With: Viktoria Spesivtseva, Andrei Bilous, Nazl Seitablaeva, Sergei Romaniok, Oles Sanin, Axtem Seitablaev, Eldar Akhimov, Emil Rasinov, Les Serdiok, Andrei Sereda, Zarema Bilyalova, Andrei Sanin, Sergei Marchenko, Shevket Seidametov, Dmitri Sanin.

“Mamay,” this year’s Ukrainian submission for Best Foreign Language Oscar, is comparatively quite rich and strange for the category. Still, this ravishing looking debut for shorts-and-docu helmer Oles Sanin, here tipping an ornate headdress to the region’s poetic film tradition pioneered by Sergei Parajanov (“The Color of Pomegranates”), could be a winner for more adventurous fests and rep houses. However, auds will need in-depth program notes to stay in steppe with pic’s very oblique story of how a Cossack falls for a blue-sky-eyed Tartar beauty across a cultural divide.

Reportedly based on a 16th-century legend that surfaces in both Ukrainian and Tartar texts, pic is essentially a Romeo and Juliet-style romance on horses, mixed with other tales of singing golden cradles, talking wolves and ethnic disputes. Opening reel kaleidoscopically mixes graphic screeds of medieval poetry with imagery of the area’s wild landscape, and key components of the story. Linear-minded viewers will struggle to make sense of the deluge of sound and vision at first, but after a while, the principle characters emerge from the morass.

A Cossack named Umai (Andrei Bilous) and his two brothers (Sergei Romaniok, Axtem Seitablaev) escape covered in some kind of whitish powder from the mine they’re being forced to work in as slaves by Tartar conquerors. Umai’s brothers find horses for the breakout, but without a ride, he’s forced to run alongside them in a breathtaking sequence, and eventually collapses from exhaustion while his bros ride away. A nomadic Tartar woman (Viktoria Spesivtseva) rescues him, restores him to health with shamanistic magic, and renames him “Mamay” (which literally means “nobody”).

Meanwhile, Umai/Mamay’s brothers get lost in the wilderness looking for him and end up cornered in a forest by the Tartars. It looks like they’re about to get the sharp end of the saber when the Moslem Tartar gang leader decides, “even infidels deserve better than a silent death in a silent forest.” Even so, the respite doesn’t last long for the men, and back on the steppe, Umai/Mamay’s romantic idyll is drawing to a close when his g.f.’s brothers decide she’s betrayed the clan.

Sanin’s direction is stately and unhurried, and shows no trace of creative influence from his day job making TV docus for foreign broadcast companies. Such work has, however, given him an obvious eye for native culture and skill with the many non-pros who pepper the cast.

Overall, film feels more like a work of folkloric painting brought to life than a than traditional movie. Nevertheless, despite the tragic ending, one might read pic as allegory pleading for cross-cultural tolerance, a very contempo theme given current strife in the nearby Caucasus region.

Stunning lensing, evident even through the lousy quality DigiBeta projection caught at Cottbus fest, is pic’s strongest suit. D.P. Sergei Mikhailchik renders the harsh, strong sunlight, romantic pastel twilights and firelit scenes with lush sensuality, bringing out the witchy splendor of Ganna Otenko and Irina Kliba’s exotic costumes (Spesivtseva’s demonic headdress during a wedding scene looks like something milliner Philip Treacy might envy.) Score by Alla Zagaykevich is hypnotic, favoring tribal drums and lutes integrated into the story.

Popular on Variety

Mamay

Ukraine

Production: An Alexander Dovzhenko National Filmstudio, Zachidno-Evropeyski Institute, Fresky Filmstudio production in association with the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture. (International sales: Ministry of Culture and Arts Ukraine, Kiev.) Produced by Ganna Chmil, Aram Gevorkyan. Executive producer, Olena Tarasenko. Directed, written by Oles Sanin.

Crew: Camera (color, Nevafilm, 35mm-to-DigiBeta,), Sergei Mikhailchik; editor, Andrei Sanin; music, Alla Zagaykevich; production designers; Sanin, Julian Tixhonov, Andrei Severinko; costume designers, Ganna Otenko, Irina Kliba; sound (Dolby Digital), Olga Kirilyuk; assistant director, Maxim Asadchii. Reviewed at Cottbus Film Festival (Spectrum), Nov. 6, 2003. Running time: 75 MIN.

With: With: Viktoria Spesivtseva, Andrei Bilous, Nazl Seitablaeva, Sergei Romaniok, Oles Sanin, Axtem Seitablaev, Eldar Akhimov, Emil Rasinov, Les Serdiok, Andrei Sereda, Zarema Bilyalova, Andrei Sanin, Sergei Marchenko, Shevket Seidametov, Dmitri Sanin.

More Film

  • The Great Outdoor documentary series about

    Farm to Picture: Documentary Series 'The Great Outdoor' Chronicles a Life Gone to Pot

    Cannabis cultivation in the Emerald Triangle, the area in Northern California that has long been a go-to for growers, has a starring role in a new documentary series called “The Great Outdoor.” Funded by Flow Kana, one of the state’s leading cannabis flower brands, filmed by David Zlutnick, and executive-produced by Flow Kana co-founder Flavia [...]

  • 1982 El Gouna Festival

    Egypt's El Gouna Film Festival Puts Arab Helmers at Center Stage

    The upbeat state of Arab cinema will be on the screen and in the balmy air at Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival (Sept. 19-27), which is steadily gaining traction in its stated ambition to become a key platform and solid driver for Middle-East producers. “This year was one the best for Arab cinema,” says Intishal [...]

  • Star Skipper Paramount Animation

    Meet Star Skipper, Paramount Animation's Magical New Trademark Logo Character

    Studio logos are powerful signals to audiences.  Multiple generations of moviegoers flipping through channels or scanning streaming titles have frozen at the sight of a desk lamp hopping across the screen, because it means a Pixar movie is about to play. Likewise, when a young boy lounging inside a crescent moon casts his fishing line into [...]

  • Sybil

    Cannes Competition Movie 'Sibyl' Finds North American Home With Music Box (EXCLUSIVE)

    Music Box Films has acquired the U.S. and Canadian rights to Justine Triet’s darkly comic drama “Sibyl,” which competed at Cannes and had its North American premiere at Toronto in the Special Presentation section. Represented in international markets by mk2, the film follows the ambiguous relationship between Sibyl, a jaded psychotherapist (Virginie Efira, “An Impossible [...]

  • Kent Jones Directs 'Diane'

    Kent Jones to Exit New York Film Festival (EXCLUSIVE)

    In a surprise move, New York Film Festival’s director and selection committee chair of seven years Kent Jones will step down following this year’s 57th edition, which runs Sept. 27-Oct. 13. The departure comes as Jones’ feature filmmaking career is taking off. Issues of potential conflicts of interest have arisen as his work has moved [...]

  • Ava-Mark-Split

    Ava DuVernay, Mark Ruffalo Selected for SAG-AFTRA Foundation Honors

    Ava DuVernay and Mark Ruffalo have been selected by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation for its fourth Annual Patron of the Artists Awards. The awards will be presented on Nov. 7 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. The show benefits the nonprofit SAG-AFTRA Foundation and is not televised. Previous SAG-AFTRA Foundation Patron of the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content